Time, we all struggle to find enough and most of us feel under the pump from first thing in the morning until we finally mange to fall into bed. It feels like we do a lot but achieve little. Often with a few simple changes in the way we do what we do we can actually become much more productive and feel more in control of our working day.
Here are a few ideas that have worked wonderfully well for me:
1. Get important tasks done before check your email first thing in the morning
As soon as you check your email in the morning, your day is shot. From that first moment on, we spend the rest of the day responding to other people and their requests, that just keep coming in. If you can spend the first few hours of your working day getting your top priorities done and then check your email, you will be amazed at how much you can get done. This is a very hard habit to change but the results are incredible.
2. Batch your appointments
Rather than space appointments over a day, I like to batch them. For example I will have a morning of appointments, one after the other and I get them knocked over. This keeps the meetings on schedule, it keeps everyone on track and avoids non-productive half hour or one hour breaks between appointments that are not really long enough to do anything significant except check emails and once again, respond to everyone else's demands.
3. Don't get pressured into committing on the spot
Many people struggle to say "no" to a request for their time, simply because they feel that they are put on the spot when the request is made. Whenever someone asks me to do something, I always say that I have to check my diary and other commitments before I can confirm. This buys me time to decide if I want to commit to this particular request, if I have the time, how I would like it to work and so on. I never feel pressured to commit to anything now and I make much better decisions as result of having some room to think.
4. Have appointment free days
Further to the previous point, the only way I get work done is to schedule days that are appointment free. These are the days when I don't see any clients, or have any appointments all. These are the days when I am at my most productive. I schedule at least two of these per week and I just love them.
5. Get better at finding out what the real deadline is
There is nothing more frustrating than being given a deadline, working all hours to meet it, and then finding out it wasn't a real deadline, the client just manipulated you so that you would get the task done quickly. During your meeting you are told that "the task has to be done by Friday" and you pull out all stops to get it done. Then you find out that the person who requested it has gone on holidays for a month and they won't even look at your report until they get back. Very frustrating. I always make a point of finding out what the real deadline is and why that deadline has been set.
6. Tell a white lie about when you are leaving
I figured this one out many years ago. The day before leaving for a business trip was always incredibly stressful and over committed on every front. I started to tell a white lie about when I was leaving. Specifically I would say I was going a day earlier than I actually was. This gave me a full day in the office (or at home) to get everything done that I needed to do without the last minute panic of clients, suppliers and staff, needing my time. I still do this today, and I leave for every trip feeling relaxed and refreshed instead of stressed out and exhausted.
7. Allocate time for the unexpected
In my daily planner I schedule two one-hour blocks for the "unexpected" things that occur during the day. One hour in the morning, one in the afternoon. I do this daily, because the one thing that really isn't unexpected is that you will need to do things that you didn't expect to have to do when your day started. If luck would have it and the unexpected haven't materialized, you suddenly have a spare hour or if you are really lucky, two spare hours, up your sleeve.
8. Disconnect from the world
When I write I turn off my email, my phone and all other connection to the outside world. At first this is very hard, but the more often you do it, the easier it gets. For me an hour spent working disconnected is equal to four hours connected. Manage people's expectations - let them know you disconnect and that you will get back to them, but it won't be until later. By responding to every email within a minute we are training our clients to expect us to be connected. Managing other people's expectations takes time, but once they have worked out how you operate, if you are good enough at what you do, they will work around you.
I started to use all of these ideas because I was tired of feeling out of control. By breaking some of my own bad habits, I regained control of my world. Not only am I more productive, the quality of what I do is better and so is my sense of satisfaction.